State Attorney's Office 1st Judicial Circuit

Child advocates and law enforcement officials in Santa Rosa County have organized a task force on human trafficking. 

CAUTION: Some of this story may be disturbing to some readers.

“I was 13 when I met my boyfriend. He said I was beautiful, and I believed him,” said a human trafficking victim in a public service announcement in Florida.

“He said I could be a model, and I believed him; he made me feel so good about myself,” said the unidentified female. “It was my real-life fairy tale, and I believed all of it.”

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

With a spate of arrests and convictions on child abuse and child sexual assault charges in the Pensacola area the past few weeks, there are concerns about how the grownups can step in and offer more protection.

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, and this is part one of a three-part series entitled “Suffer the Little Children."


Joseph Graves, the former Florida Department of Law Enforcement chemist charged with racketeering and other offenses, was given a 15-year sentence after entering a guilty plea on Wednesday. 

Dave Dunwoody

An Escambia County couple is behind bars, facing numerous charges in the alleged abuse of three of their children.

An Escambia County couple is behind bars, facing numerous charges in the alleged abuse of three of their children.

“There are many things as law enforcement that we don’t take lightly, and of course child abuse is at the top of that list,” said Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan.

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

It’s being called the largest methamphetamine bust in Escambia County history. “Operation Brick House” was led by the county Sheriff’s Office and involved a number of law enforcement agencies.

Sheriff David Morgan says the undercover operation dates back to 2012, investigating a group of people he says are responsible for distributing significant amounts various drugs.

Florida Dept. of Corrections

Oral arguments are set for Thursday before the Florida Supreme Court, in the case that forced a sentencing change in the state’s death penalty procedure.

The case involves Timothy Lee Hurst, who was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of a fast-food restaurant manager in Pensacola. In January, the U-S Supreme Court ruled that Florida’s method of imposing execution was unconstitutional – because it gave too much power to judges rather than juries.

Two years after his arrest, a former lab technician from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) remains months away from trial.

Joseph Graves faces myriad charges: pleading not guilty to evidence tampering, drug trafficking, racketeering and grand theft while working out of FDLE’s Pensacola office. State Attorney Bill Eddins says his office will prosecute what he calls a very complex case.

Pace Fire Rescue District

Fire chiefs and top administrators in the Pensacola Fire Department and Pace Fire-Rescue are on paid leave in two separate investigations.

Santa Rosa County officials confirm that Pace Fire-Rescue Chief Donnie Wadkins and Sec. Pat Watkins are under investigation for an undisclosed reason or reasons. Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille confirms that the investigation has been ongoing for a period of time.

On an 8-1 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday struck down Florida’s system of allowing judges, and not juries, to decide whether convicted murderers get the death penalty.

The ruling is based on the case of Timothy Lee Hurst, who murdered his manager at a Popeye’s restaurant in Pensacola in 1998. Hurst’s jury voted 7-5 in favor of the death penalty and the judge imposed the sentence. The high court has ordered a new sentencing hearing for Hurst.

Note: This series first aired on WUWF in October.

The Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines “cold case” as “an unsolved criminal investigation which remains open pending the discovery of new evidence.” In the first of a five-part series on cold cases, Dave Dunwoody visited the State Attorney’s Office for the First Judicial District.

Escambia County Jail

Two Escambia County deputies and two others arrested in an investigation into sexual assault had their first day in court on Thursday.

Deputies Mark Smith and Walter Thomas were arraigned before Judge Michael Jones on charges of sexual assault on a victim older than 12. Smith was also charged with misdemeanor battery. Trial is scheduled for June 29. Bond for Thomas is set at $60,000, and $66,000 for Smith.

The two deputies have retained private counsel.

One of the principals in the slayings of Byrd and Melanie Billings will remain in prison. Leonard Gonzalez Sr.s motion for early parole went before the Florida Commission on Offender Review on Wednesday.

On a 3-0 vote, the Commission decided that the 62-year-old Gonzalez will continue to serve his 17 and a half year sentence. State Attorney Bill Eddins, one of the chief prosecutors in Gonzalez’ case, says the Department of Corrections had requested the early release.

Escambia County Jail

An Okaloosa County couple working as paramedics are charged with sex offenses against a juvenile, along with a pair of Escambia County deputies, and are now in the Escambia County Jail pending a bond hearing.

Leah and Douglas Manning were extradited from Fremont County, Colorado and brought back to Pensacola Saturday. They were arrested Thursday afternoon at a campground near Florence, Colorado, south of Denver,  after two weeks at-large.

Three local men have been arrested on child pornography charges in the past two weeks, the latest in more than a dozen such cases in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties over the past year and a half.  WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody reports on the legalities and the mindset regarding child porn.

In separate arrests, Keith Shaffer of Pace, Warren Lindsley of Pensacola and Samuel Yates of Milton are charged with possession of child pornography, which is a third-degree felony. Lindsley is also charged with promoting the sexual performance by a child, which is second-degree.

A Pensacola area doctor’s sentence for attempting to meet a juvenile for sexual purposes is drawing both fire and action from the State Attorney’s Office, which will appeal.   

Dr. Brian Lee was convicted of sending graphic emails to whom he thought was a 14-year-old-boy, and then traveling to meet him for sex. The “boy” turned out to be an undercover investigator. Circuit Judge Terry Terrell sentenced the 43-year-old Lee to what amounts to house arrest for two years; 13 years’ probation, and ordered him to register as a sexual offender – but no prison time.

At the height of the late April flooding, Pensacola was hit with another tragedy – an explosion at the Escambia County Jail’s Central Booking Facility.

The explosion killed two inmates and injured 184 other inmates and jail staff. About 600 inmates were housed there at the time. They were taken to other county lockups, and to facilities in adjacent counties. The blast originated in a first-floor laundry room, which contained a number of natural gas-powered dryers.

  An Escambia County Grand Jury Thursday returned a “no true bill” after seven weeks of investigating last spring’s explosion at the County Jail’s Central Booking Facility.

A “no true bill” means the panel did not find probable cause to move forward with criminal charges in relation to the April 30 blast caused by a natural gas leak on the day after floodwaters hit the facility. Two inmates died, and 184 other inmates and staff were injured.


More charges are filed for a former Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab supervisor, who’s accused of stealing prescription drugs being held for evidence.

Joseph Graves did not appear before Circuit Judge Jan Shackelford for the arraignment on Thursday morning. He now faces an additional 32 counts of trafficking in illegal drugs.

Just over a week after an explosion at the Escambia County Jail’s central booking facility, the building is back under county control as the investigation is continues.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office returned the jail to the County Commission on Thursday, after leading the investigation into the blast which killed two inmates and injured 184 others. The initial report did not raise any eyebrows.

With 600 inmates securely housed at other detention facilities in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties, the attention now turns to what caused Wednesday night’s explosion at the Escambia County Jail.

It was, by all standards, a major logistical feat – evacuating the jail, rescuing inmates trapped in the rubble, transporting the 184 injured to area hospitals and the rest to other lockups.

What may have helped matters was that the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center was already activated for Tuesday’s storms and flooding. Mike Weaver is Public Safety Director.